Saturday, October 9, 2010

North Berwick

Since we had a short stay in Scotland we decided not to travel by car. However, as a day excursion, we took a bus outside the city. The local tourist information recommended North Berwick. This was an hour-long ride on a local bus.

The town of North Berwick is located on the shore, on the north-east "corner" of the island. We arrived during low tide, and so went strolling on the beach.

We reached the local harbor, to see all the boats grounded. 

There were few small sailboats that were out to sea. To me this looked like a crazy thing to do in the autumn. But it seems that the local enjoyed it. They all wore special outfit that kept them dry and warm in water (I assume that the sea here is COLD).

We went on a path that took us to the rocky point at the tip of the harbor. The rocks here were covered with lichen and looked almost organic. 

Next to the harbor stands the Scottish Seabird Center. We decided to skip the inside exhibition and enjoy instead a coffee outside.
From North Berwick we took a 15 minute bus ride to Tantallon Castle. An old castle that served as the main residence of local lords. The castle is built on a small extension of a cliff, and so is protected by a sheer cliff-side in three directions. The land-facing direction is blocked by a massive wall that is seen for a far.

The castle is built from local soft rock. The idea was to make it able to absorb cannon balls without crumbling. The soft rock does not stand well to the wind and has been corroded in impressive shapes.

We went exploring all around the place.

Outside the castle stands a local dove-cot. It turns out that they grew large numbers of doves here as a source of food. 

Coming out of the castle we saw the bus go by from a far. And so we waited for the next one.

After an hour of waiting, we gave up on the bus, and started asking for rides. We got a ride to town from a nice fellow who was visiting the castle with his grandson. We were quite cold by now and stopped at a pub for a drink and something warm to eat. 

By now the tide was high, and all the beach was covered by waves. We decided to catch the bus back to Edinburgh and call it a day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Edinburgh (part I)

I was invited to give a talk at workshop in Edinburgh. Yael joined me for for a long weekend together before the workshop.

We both been together in Edinburgh in 2001 (or was it 2000), and so we remembered the city. Yet, it was nice to spend some time away from the Israeli heat. Here we found cloudy sky and a nice chill. We enjoyed the old buildings and the small alleyways. 

The first day here, we stopped at a classic looking pub for a later afternoon meal. The place was a mix of local stopping after work or an afternoon of shopping, and few tourists like ourselves. I had haggis with neeps and tatties, which was surprisingly good. Yael had a more cautious fish & chips.  

On  the way home we passed a small cemetery.

The next day in the city was more art oriented. We went to the Fruitmarket Gallery, a very nice modern gallery with a bookstore and a cafe, and saw an exhibition by Martin Creed, a renowned young (ish) Scotish artist.  His works there included video art (which I did not connect with), a musical staircase and elevator (which was a nice gimmicky feel) and very abstract towers of objects.

We also got to see the underground of the old town, in a nice tour. They did not allow photographs, so we have to content with a picture of the guides dressed in period costumes.
We saw the obligatory windpipe player and few of the local monuments.

An interesting monument is for Greyfriars' Bobby. This was a small dog that came to sit on his owner's grave for 14 years, until he himself died and was burried next to him. There is a statue in memory of Bobby, and a bar on his name. The place is a central attraction for tourists (and dog owners).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Southern Egypt Safari - Last day

I didn't sleep well during the night. I kept turning over in my sleep and seeing blurry stars and feeling the wind. My stomach was annoyed (later I learned that almost all of us had stomach trouble, and we mostly blamed it on the farewell cake). I woke to see the sunrise over the Sinai mountains, and took the last set of pictures of sunset for this trip.

Our first dive was to the Thistlegrom again. This time Piet led the dive. Unlike Boaz who gave us free leash to explore, Piet took us on a guided tour that covered the whole length of the boat. This was a nice change because he showed various things that otherwise would be missed.

We started with some ammunition from the explosion site.

We then passed below the anti-aircraft guns to the huge propellor at the back of the ship.

Throughout the dive we saw amazing amount of sea life. Very large batfish, schools of blue fishes, and in the closed rooms also schools of glass fishes going around in circles. 

We reached the forward port of the ship, where we saw some train carriages. 

We then entered the room where the anchor chains were stored and came up to the tip of the bow. Here there was a strong current that we had to fight not to get carried off into the void.

We started going back toward mid ship. At some point I saw two very large box fishes swimming one after the other, a great photo-op that was missed due to the lack of flash. Going through the command tower we passed the remains of the captain's chambers, which included a large bathtub, apparently for his own private use.

We started going up when Avi and I had 50bar. Going up the rope we started encountering very strong current. It felt like we were pieces of laundry left to dry on a fierce wind. This was not a very pleasant experience, especially since I was trying to keep the camera from banging into things.

Dive #25: Thistlegrom, 200-20, 39:40min, max 30.8m, avg 18.6m.

After breakfast the captain got us moving toward Sha'arem. On the way we had to pass Ras Muhammad, the southernmost tip of Sinai. This is a large nature reserve (both on land and in the sea) and has some of the best diving sites of the Red Sea. Our farewell dive as at the very tip in an site called Yolanda Reef. It is supposed to have crazy current. The prediction was that the current would be from north-east to south-west, but after watching the water Piet had a hunch that it was reversed at the time. He went with the zodiac to check and reported this was the case. And so we did the dive in the opposite direction to the intended plan.
We jumped directly off the back of the boat while the captain killed the engine (without mooring) and started down.

The reef was shallow and nice where we started. Suddenly a strong current hit us and took us with it for several minutes. When we reached a corner we went close to the reef and the current left us. This is where the Yolanda sunk. It carried sanitary supplies, which are spread all over the area. The remains of the ship were moved since then by the sea and fell into the deep.

Piet found another stonefish. This one was purple and plain to see, once you realized that it is a fish and not a rock.
We continued along the reef until we got to a steep wall. Here there was a lot of life and a bit of current running against us (but very weakly). Piet had an unexpected meeting with an acquaintance.

At the end we moved off the lip of the reef and went up for the zodiac to pick us up.

Dive #26: Yolanda Reef, 200-30, 48:00min, max 26.2m, avg 14.3m.

After Ras Muhammad, we continued toward Sha'arem. It was a very short trip, and mostly over by time I packed my stuff and diving gear. At the port, which is protected from the wind, we suddenly felt how warm it is. We had lunch, and waited inside until our bus showed up. We quickly dismounted, packed the bus, and went on it. 

Unlike the trip from Taba to Shaarem that was at night, the trip back was during day, and we got some views of Sinai mountains and the shore from Dahab to Taba. The closer we got to Taba the resorts and huts looked more and more deserted and unused. I guess the lack of Israeli tourism hit this area the hardest.

We reached the border at about 6pm. The border crossing was mostly deserted, but getting through the Egyptian passport control and then the Israeli security checks took a long while. We aggregated outside the border station on the Israeli side. Said our goodbyes, and then started the long drive home.